At yesterday’s 5pm briefing, health secretary Matt Hancock said that childcare professionals and other critical workers with coronavirus symptoms are to be prioritised for testing.
He said that all essential workers ‘who need a test’ will be able to book a coronavirus test online both for themselves and members of their households.
The health secretary has said the new online booking system will be key to the Government reaching its target of 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of the month.
The plan means that key workers will be able to book a test at a drive through centre or register for a home test.
However, there are currently only 30 testing sites around the country and on Friday morning, the part of the gov.uk website set up for key workers to book Covid-19 tests was unable to take any more applications.
It had run out of home-testing kits for today before 9am and by mid-morning the website said, ‘Coronavirus test: applications closed. You can’t currently register for a Covid-19 test. Please check back here later.’
The Department of Health and Social Care tweeted an apology, which said, ‘There has been significant demand for booking tests today. We apologise for any inconvenience. We are continuing to rapidly increase availability. More tests will be available tomorrow.’
Meanwhile, the move to extend testing to education staff has been welcomed by the early years sector and teaching unions.
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, said, ‘Childcare professionals, like many other key workers, continue to put themselves at risk in order to ensure that care is available to vulnerable and key worker children at this difficult time.
‘It is absolutely right therefore that the Government prioritises testing for key workers with symptoms to enable them to clarify their medical status, and ensure that they are not kept away from their vital roles due to potentially unnecessary self-isolation.
‘Of course, as with all such announcements, the devil is in the detail. With a limited number of testing sites currently in operation, it remains to be seen how easy it will be for key workers like childcare practitioners to access tests.
‘Nevertheless, this is a positive step and one that we hope will go at least some way to addressing the staffing challenges that some settings have been facing.’
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said, ‘It is essential that staff who are self-isolating at home get immediate access to the test.
‘The UK has been in lockdown for exactly one month, during which time our members have worked to keep schools running for children of key workers and the most vulnerable pupils. Our call for testing has been unceasing. The Government has been slow to respond, and there will be a fear amongst school staff that this promise will follow the pattern of previous pledges to contain the virus. Our members will not tolerate dither and delay. They need certainty and, from the health secretary, swift action to make this promise a reality.’
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, said, ‘School staff have been on the front line in the national response to coronavirus. We have been clear from the start that governments across the UK understand they must honour this effort with the appropriate level of support and safety. If testing can be delivered effectively, then it will be welcomed by the education sector.
‘It is extremely important that school teams have access to reliable and timely scientific and medical advice and support. We know that social distancing is totally impractical in schools settings. Although the safety of children is always the first thing on the minds of school leaders, it is not just how the virus is dealt with by the young. Transmission from children to adults, teachers, carers and elders relatives, is of equal concern. Testing plays a crucial role where and where the Government asks school teams to subject themselves to risk, it must assess this accurately and clearly state that. Measures to mitigate those risks should be clearly available to schools.’